The Well-Dressed Garden

Make a (Simple) Splash

Water makes a garden sparkle, and it doesn't take much to capture the effect. In gardens of every size and style, you can make quite a splash with nothing more than a birdbath.

Fancy fountains and elaborate ponds full of fish completely change the character of a garden. Small water features are subtler and more personal. The glint of a pretty birdbath draws your eye, even from across the yard. It will instantly add a quiet note of tranquility, but it also brings color, life and movement to a garden: A birdbath is one of the best and easiest ways to attract birds of all kinds. And setting up a birdbath doesn't require elaborate design skills, a big budget or even a toolbox.

Finding a spot for a birdbath is easy and fun. You should be able to see it from inside the house, if possible, and from wherever you usually sit outdoors. A classic birdbath on a pedestal can be placed right in the middle of a flower bed -- or it can stand in a sunny spot all to itself. You can tuck a birdbath into a niche along a garden path, perhaps near a bench, inviting you to linger, or you can make a place for a birdbath right next to the patio. Where space is at a premium, you can hang a birdbath from a branch or a sturdy crook. You can even attach a birdbath to a deck rail or a windowsill. Out in the open, a birdbath shimmers in the sunlight and reflects the passing clouds. The birds will particularly enjoy a more intimate bath in the dappled light under trees.

When you're looking for just the right spot, keep in mind that the birdbath must sit level with the ground. If your yard slopes or the soil settles under base of the birdbath, a few paving stones or bricks will help maintain an even water level in the basin.

All birdbaths are great garden decorations. A birdbath on a pedestal is inherently sculptural and becomes a natural focal point in a garden, so place it thoughtfully to take full advantage of it. Colorful glazed birdbaths complement summer flowers and add bright notes through the winter. Low birdbaths made from a plant saucer or any large, shallow dish fit naturally into more informal gardens. A gleaming metal birdbath will reflect the spirit of a formal modern garden design.

Birds are easygoing about garden design and happily visit all kinds of birdbaths, even puddles. Nature seems even closer and more beautiful when a colorful parade of birds visits your garden all year round, coming in for a sip or a dip, splashing in the shallow water and preening afterward in the branches of a nearby tree. If you're already feeding cardinals, blue jays and chickadees, you may be surprised to discover that a birdbath attracts an even wider variety of birds. If you haven't tried it before, a birdbath will introduce an important new dimension to your backyard environment.

Birds like to drink water every day, and they'll quickly make a clean and fresh birdbath a part of their daily routine. A birdbath also helps birds cool off and keep their feathers tidy. In nature, birds look for shallow puddles after a rain, or for any depression in a log or a rock. A good birdbath is like a puddle -- it should be less than 3 inches deep, with gently sloping sides. If your birdbath is a little deeper than that, place a few flat rocks on the bottom for the birds to stand on.

To make a birdbath even more attractive to birds, add moving water. A drip or mist attachment (available at garden shops and bird specialty stores) changes the dynamic a lot, adding a soothing splash that birds can hear from the treetops, or a spray that catches their eye from a distance. Small birds perch on the tip of a drip attachment to take a sip, as though they're at a drinking fountain. With a mister, you're likely to see hummingbirds dart through the mist for a quick shower as they flit about the garden.

In a sunny spot, water will evaporate quickly from a birdbath in the summertime, so you'll need to keep a watering can or a hose handy to top up the basin; it's a pleasant part of the daily garden routine. In shade, clean out any leaves or twigs that fall into the water. Refreshing the water every day or so also prevents mosquitoes from breeding in a birdbath.

Fresh water is a secret ingredient: It makes any garden more interesting and attractive. Putting in a birdbath -- or two, or three, around the garden -- is an intimate gesture that you and the birds will appreciate every day.

SOURCES

Birdbaths of all kinds are available from:

-- Gardener's Supply Co., gardeners.com

-- Wild Birds Unlimited, wbu.com

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